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A Wild, Wild Ride
by Betty Jo Tucker

Published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Rebel Without a Cause, a new book by Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel should cause quite a stir itself. LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause takes us behind the scenes of this iconic film and reveals some dirty little secrets we probably didn’t need to know. But I dare you to put this book down once you start reading it!

James Dean fans and moviegoers who love Rebel Without a Cause will be especially interested in finding out what went on during the filming of this influential movie, viewed by some as “the ultimate teenage film.” Fortunately, the authors have done their research well. They poured over thousands of documents and interviewed every living member of the cast and crew. As a result, Frascella and Weisel uncovered stunning dramatic information, including the story behind 43-year-old director Nicholas Ray’s affair with Natalie Wood (who was only sixteen at the time) as well as Sal Mineo’s awakening homosexuality and the unusual relationships among the director and his three stars.

To me, the most interesting thing about this well-written book is its detailed description of the way director Ray worked with his cast. Alfred Hitchcock once said that actors should be treated like cattle, but Ray didn’t agree. He used psychosexual seduction instead. And it worked! Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo both earned Oscar nominations, and James Dean emerged as the idol of millions (posthumously, because he was killed in a car crash before the film was released). After his death, Dean received more fan mail than any living actor at the time.      

Dean, Wood, Mineo and Ray worked together on Rebel in 1955, a year when social and sexual changes loomed on the horizon in postwar America. According to Frascella and Weisel, it turned out to be an explosive combination of time and talent. In the last chapter of their book, the authors state, “It has been half a century since Rebel Without a Cause was released. Yet amazingly, the movie’s presence can still be felt, not only in the U.S., but around the world.”        

Filled with as many intriguing tidbits about affairs, fights, addictions and ambition as about dedication, genius and a passion for visual storytelling, this book comes alive through the colorful writing of its two authors. LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause is a real treat for anyone fascinated by the no-holds-barred history of Hollywood

(A Touchstone Hardcover published by Simon & Schuster, October 4, 2005; ISBN: 0-7432-6082-1; $24.95)

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